This weekend Native Yoga is hosting Ashtanga Yogi, David Miliotis, for a series of workshops and practice sessions. David is originally from coastal Los Angeles and he now resides in Orange County, California. He flew here for a return visit to Native Yoga Center and we feel really lucky to have him here.
I originally met David in Mysore, India practicing at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Center in 2004. I was set up next to him one morning and I was so inspired by his practice that I immediately afterward introduced myself to him. I learned then that he was living in Santa Barbara and that he was teaching Mysore practice there. I remember thinking that he seemed really down to earth and I appreciated the time he took to speak with me.
Fast forward 10 years and a friend in South Florida reintroduced us and we invited him to come and teach here at Native last year. It was such a treat to have his perspective and skill at our studio that we are honored to have him return this weekend.
During last nights class he took us through the Primary Series in a really fun and engaging manner. One thing that is obvious when practicing with David is that he has cultivated an impeccable connection with breath, bandha and drishti. He has the ability to verbally communicate the elements of internal anatomy in a practical fashion which produces a deep sense of connection between the breath and the perception of the mind. He also has a great ability to connect with the students and give pointers for all levels to help the engagement process. I really enjoyed the practice immensely.
The Evolution of Our Practice
Anytime we examine the process of evolution it is important to have a clear memory of the past. If we can distinctly recall our history and also take an assessment of where we are now, then it is possible to examine what has occurred and notice if and how we have progressed.
At some point, in the realm of yoga practice, we have the opportunity to reflect on how our practice has evolved. Regardless of how long we have been practicing this theory can hold true. The reality is that one would need to have at least two practice sessions complete to be able to observe the progression of the practice. We can notice how our perception has shifted from one repetition to the next. This ability seems to become enhanced the longer we are involved in and with a practice.
Do you remember the first time you encountered yoga? It is important to try to recall the feelings we had regarding our first experience. It is really interesting to try to recollect the reason why we decided to try practicing yoga in the first place. There are multiple reasons why we might find interest in trying yoga. Perhaps it is to try a new form of exercise, lose some weight, increase our flexibility and strength, or even to delve deeper into our understanding of spirituality and self inquiry. Regardless of the reason, if we can first become clear about the “why”, we can begin to see how we have grown since that time.
Do you feel like you have progressed since your first encounter with yoga? I feel progression is a lot easier to measure once you establish your self in a practice for a long duration. Exactly how long? That will depend on each person. I remember the first time I tried yoga it was in the form of Mantra yoga and it required chanting words using japan mala(108 beads strung together to serve as a tool to keep focussed on the mantra recitation). I quickly found that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but I did notice some positive effects very soon thereafter. I did not stick with it though for any continuation so it is challenging to say how effective it could of been had I made a daily ritual of it. I mention this because progression seems to rely heavily on endurance with dedication to one form of yoga for an extended span of time.
If we were to come to the realization that we do not feel like we have progressed this would probably be due to two factors. One, are we still practicing? The second being, do we have faith the practice will take us to our goal? If the answer to the first question is no, then I think it is probably obvious as to why we don’t see any transformation. If the answer is yes and we still do not feel like there is an unfolding of development then the big question becomes, do we believe in the method of practice to begin with? I say this is the “big question” because believing in what you are doing is one of the golden keys to success. If from the core of your being you feel that your method of practice is sound and true, then a favorable outcome is bound to occur. Faith constitutes a cornerstone in the path to progress.
I found myself reflecting on these questions today as we are coming to the close of our Third Series Teacher Training with Tim Miller. I feel like these two weeks have been an incredible opportunity for growth and development. When I first started practicing asana yoga I undoubtedly was attracted to the challenge of the posture practice. I was enthralled with trying to deepen my poses purely in the realm of the physical. To be very honest I am excited about this aspect of the practice more than ever before. Exposing myself to this group of practitioners has inspired me beyond measure. As I probe the question a bit more deeply though I can’t help but feel that my understanding of yoga and its purpose is what is truly evolving. Is it because of the asana I am feeling so much indebtedness? Perhaps it is because Tim has opened me up to a multitude of complimentary practices (asana, pranayama, bhakti, kirtan and mantra) that I am feeling such a deep sense of gratitude? Regardless, I feel that my whole focus has radically shifted from a place of desiring progress through the physical to a place of thankfulness for the transpersonal. That is an appreciation with states or areas of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity. In some miraculous way I feel that I have been able to shed a few of my inhibitions and the moral support of the gathering of these folks has given me a renewed sense of accomplishment. Thank you for this as I am deeply beholden.
Today is Saturday and our day of rest from asana practice. One thing that I really love about the Ashtanga method is that it is recommended to take at least one day off per week and to not practice on the new or full moon. Sometimes people can get obsessed with the asana practice and perhaps if this rule was not in place some people would hammer out an intense practice every single day. Personally that would not be an issue for me. The fact that there is a prescribed 6 day a week practice schedule is something that takes a lot of time to really cultivate and maintain. I also think that no practice on moon days, the new and full moon, is the best invention since sliced bread. I adhere to the Saturday off idea mainly because that is what I learned from Guruji and Tim, but it is good to note that you can make that day any day you choose. Yet still the 6 days, “you do!”
When Tamara and I went to Mysore we asked the assistance of someone to help us find a room to rent while we were there. The gentle Indian man said “I can’t help you tomorrow because it is moon day, yet the following day I can.” In this case he was not an “asana” practitioner (I don’t think) but he took moon days off from work anyhow. This blew our mind. We had never come across this concept before. When we were practicing Bikram yoga never once was this notion mentioned, nor was there any talk of breathing either but that is an entirely different story. I have to admit that right away I thought that moon days were a brilliant concept regardless that it was a foreign idea. Now as a 6 day a week practitioner (as best I can as a family man), I think moon days are incredible. Now every two weeks, you get a day to rest your body as well as the Saturday. I think that the element of the fixed day off one day per week, combined with the extra two moon days off on alternating intervals, creates a variation of change within a consistent structure.
If you don’t adhere to this rule you probably are thinking, “Todd is getting a little out there.” I promise though that if you try this it will seem like the most remarkable concept ever created. That is little background story of why then, today we took the morning off to rest. We had Teacher Training session today from 1 PM to 6 PM yet Tim still honored this tradition by giving us a five hour tour of the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It was remarkable as those of you who have met Tim can imagine. In his First and Second Series Teacher Trainings he covers the first and second chapters of the Yoga Sutras. So this was the first time I have had the privilege of having him go sutra by sutra and take the time to allow us to share our thoughts about what they could potentially mean. Reading the Yoga Sutras can be a lifetime of study because they are challenging to decipher. The Sanskrit language allows multiple translations for every word so that over the years many translators have given different meanings for each sutra. There is usually a fairly common thread amongst most meanings, non the less, they can be quite confusing to contemplate at first glance. That is what it is so interesting to have someone who has been contemplating this over for some thirty years to give their take on their meaning. Since meeting Tim and having been inspired to try this myself. I have enjoyed this process even though sometimes it just seems so perplexing. The cool thing is that the theory informs the practice and the practice informs the theory. How I viewed the Yoga Sutras and their interpretations has changed radically over the years. As I learn a new concept from them I try to apply it to my yoga and meditation practice. As my yoga and meditation practice evolves my understanding of the meaning behind the words also transforms.
We covered a lot today yet there was one that I particularly enjoyed. Sutra III.27 states Bhuvana jnanam surye samyamat. It can be translated as: By samyama on the Sun comes knowledge of the entire universe. The word samyama means the “catch-all” process of concentration, meditation and absorption (dharana, dhyana and samadhi). Tim stated, “The sun is the eye of the world. If we become one with the eye of the world we can see all things.” I really liked this view point. The concept of the sun being the eye of the world reminds me of the idea that stars are just the holes to heaven (Jack Johnson fans will catch that one). To keep this practical I feel this sutra is beneficial because it encourages us to open our minds to greater possibility. There is the potential that we can learn from the Yoga Sutras and experience for ourselves the liberation that the great sages have been trying to verbalize and describe for eons.